So, a couple of years ago when online shopping was just starting to be a thing, I purchased a Christmas present for my wonderful wife on the newly created Walmart.com. I carefully picked out the gift, probably a waffle iron because I know how to bring the Christmas joy. I put it in my virutal cart and clicked on the little button to check out. The entire screen froze. I grabbed some lunch while the circle thing spun, smirking that this still beats waiting in line at a crowded store. When I came back, the circle was still spinning so I turned off the computer, turned it back on and tried again. The screen froze four more times before I could finally make it across the finish line at check out. It took me almost an hour to order that gift. At check out I realized they couldn’t guarantee delivery before Christmas, so I had to go to the store to pick it up anyway .
When I got to the store I was mad. I only got more angry as I waited in a long winding line at customer service. By the time I got to the clerk, I unloaded on her. I barely took a breath as I ranted. When I was all done, the eighteen year old girl in front of me said, “Wow, I am so sorry you have had such a bad experience. Your story sounds horrible, no wonder you are mad. Let me grab your gift for you and I promise to tell my manager about what happened so we can do better.”
So, two things. One, this girl, who was a third of my age, nailed it. She listened to me. She sympathized with me. She apologized. She worked extra hard to help compensate for what had happened. She promised to use my story to help improve their system. I couldn’t have asked for more. I don’t know who she was or where she is today, but she had a gift.
The second thing is that I felt like a horrible person after she was so nice to me. Her kindness made me feel like a jerk and even worse because she wasn’t even trying to make me feel like a jerk. She truly seemed to be concerned about me. Her treating me like a cherished child of God in that crowded Walmart, revealed to me how far short I had come in treating her like a cherished child of God.
Something I read this week stuck with me. David Lose in his weekly blog post about scripture wrote that the purpose of light is not to be seen but to let other things be seen. That is pretty profound. We don’t turn on a light and say wow, that light bulb is beautiful. We turn on a light and say, wow, this room is beautiful or disgusting depending on what the light reveals. The light is not the point of it. What the light reveals is the point of it.
All over scripture, we find light being used as a metaphor. God, Torah, scripture, Israel, Jesus, disciples are all at times called light. In my head, I spin out the metaphor further and think of a bug light. The brighter the light the more bugs are going to be drawn to it. The more good works we do, the brighter our light, the more people will be drawn to us. The more good things all Christians in the world do, the more love we share, the more sacrifices we make, the more people will be drawn to God and the soon the entire world will be crammed on this city on the hill, like a thousand bugs buzzing around your deck on a summer night.
This bug light idea though makes the light bulb the point, rather than the illumination. Maybe it is not so much people are drawn to the light, but they are startled by what the light reveals. When you and I act in the world like disciples, little Christs, loving even jerk customers at Walmart, it startles our neighbor. It can even change them and how they think.
Last week I worked at HEART Food Pantry here in Reynoldsburg. Before we opened, I was talking to one of our volunteers. She said before she started serving at HEART she thought the people that came to pantries were dirt poor and starving. “Since, I knew not that many people are actually starving in Reynoldsburg, I didn’t think a food pantry was that necessary. Now, that I work here, I realize that most of the people that we serve either work or have a fixed income. Their money just doesn’t make it through the month. A week’s worth of groceries here, allows them to pay towards their electric bill instead, afford that prescription or even have enough just to take their child to a movie. People just struggling to make ends meet need HEART.”
At HEART, by being light we reveal what poverty looks like in Reynoldsburg. Simply by doing what Jesus told us to do, we shine a light on the needs of some of our hard working neighbors. The work of the church not only changes those we serve, but the light that comes from that work helps everyone, including ourselves, see clearly the world around us. The hope of that action is not only to fix what is broken around us, but to shine a light on that brokenness, too.
Every day, whether we know it or not, our actions as Christ in the world shine a light that reveals the brokenness around us. One of our members was angry this week by vicious and racist Facebook posts on Channel Ten’s Facebook page directed at his twenty four year old daughter, after news footage of her leadership at an airport march was shared. His loving words and refusal to return hateful speech with hateful speech shined as a bright light, making those horrible remarks seem all the more stark. One of our members was nearly overwhelmed by the frustration of simply not having enough money to do the most basic things needed. Instead she decided to trust Jesus’ promise that the poor will be blessed. Her faith in Christ shined a light that ended up revealing the stinginess of so many of us.
The hater on facebook doesn’t know what to do with the person who sincerely responds with love. The rich see the dignity in poverty and are moved to be generous. The screamer at Walmart is brought up short up by being cared for and understood. When we as Christians return hate with love, greed with generosity, violence with peace, ridicule with understanding and hurt with forgiveness, we are being light. Our light shines and reveals what needs fixing in us and around us. Our light provides hope that what is broken can be healed. Amen